Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Millennium Fever

Today was our first official day going live with our new Millennium cataloging software.

I was frankly expecting complete and utter chaos, but this chaos turned out to be only incomplete and inutter.

Of course, as soon as I walked in the door for work, Mrs. A & Mrs. C grabbed me, ran me through a quick refresher course on how to add new patrons and check out books, said, "You got it?" then fled the building, leaving me at the helm for an hour.

That's okay, though. I had my sea legs on today. Mostly.

Millennium has a lot going for it, but after spending the day with it, we still haven't quite made friends. As clunky and hateful and "1993" as our old VTLS program is, at least I know how to do what I want with it. Fortunately, we're still running VTLS in addition to Millennium so whenever I don't know what to do with one, I can always switch over to the other.

The reason we have both systems running is because all the books that were originally "checked out" with VTLS are not "checked out" with Millennium. So when patrons bring their books back, we check them "IN" on VTLS and only then are they ready to be checked "OUT" with Millennium. In order to do that, we have to make all of our patrons a brand new "Liberry" card for Millennium.

The process for making new liberry cards for Millennium has about as many hoops to jump through as it did with VTLS. And for every advantage over the old way of, there is a new drawback to take its place.

One of the major new changes is that patrons now have to supply us with a photo ID, usually a drivers license, as well as their drivers license number so we can have a unique identifier on hand that will hopefully prevent patrons from getting multiple cards at multiple libraries. We also have to cross check each "new" patron with our old VTLS records to make sure they're not a SEEFILE. And if they are, we get to hit them in the mouth. Well, not really, but it has been suggested.

This leads to the matter of what to do about children who are patrons. After all, what elementary aged kid has the required photo ID or a driver's license? This was a major point of contention for the various policy committees charged with fixing it. Many members of it insisted that each patron, child or adult, MUST HAVE a unique identifying number. However, with children, no one could agree what that number should be. We can't legally use a social security number, but there just isn't any other number universal to all children. In the end, they couldn't come up with any sort of fix to it, so library policy is that kids can have library cards and we can skip the drivers license section of it, but their parents must be present with a drivers license when their kids get the card. Now tell me, just what the hell kind of sense does that make?

Official reasoning is that we're supposed to use the parent's drivers license to verify the child's home address, as children can't apparently be trusted to supply us accurate information on their own. Whatever.

The trouble is, I didn't find this bit of information out until I'd already made quite a few children cards sans drivers license. Mrs. A came back from lunch and pointed out my error. She also added that she didn't really care either way, as the policy didn't make any sense to here either, but she just wanted me to know. Upon hearing it, I was filled with stomach churning waves of frustration. I started to say, "I get chills from the administrative stupidity," but only managed an angry, "I get chills..." before deciding such a phrase was unwise to utter with a room full of patrons and semi-administrative librarian types.

Later on, Mrs. A came up to apologize to me, thinking she'd been the one to make me mad.

"Oh, wait. No. You didn't make me angry," I said. I explained to her that I wasn't angry at her, but at what I viewed as nonsensical policy. Plus I'm still pissed about the noise the upper management has been making about having us rebarcode every book in the building, AGAIN, just to move from a 10 digit barcode to the new 14 digit barcode. As I've stated previously, we just rebarcoded all 33,000 books in our collection last summer in order to move from 9 to 10 digits. The lack of administrative foresight demonstrated in now suggesting we need to do it all over again is practically criminal and is the kind of thing someone should really get fired over. In my opinion, we're already putting the 14 digit barcode on all new books and all new patrons, so we should just let the old books lose theirs by attrition, particularly since the new system is not affected whatsoever by the 10 digit codes. Sure, it'll take years to do this, but I don't see the need for a big rush.

Mrs. A said she more than shared my feelings of frustration over it all and didn't see any need for rebarcoding anything. In fact, she said the only reason they were talking about redoing it all is for statistical purposes, as the new barcode can carry more information helpful for keeping track of various administrative concerns.

They can gnaw on my 14 digit wang, I say.

Another major change in how we do things is that we now offer our patrons a choice in library card design. They can have either the regular sized library card, or a mini key-chain version. We stress to them that they should consider the fact that from now on and forever after they will HAVE TO HAVE THEIR LIBRARY CARD ON THEM in order to check out books. There will be no more looking up their name in the computer, because our database will contain patrons from over 16 counties, many of whom will have the same name. There will also be no more using the cards of other family members when yours gets too full. Screw that.

We also insist on knowing their middle names, as that is one more layer of identifying information to help keep things from getting even more chaotic than they already are. If they don't have a middle name, or just refuse to tell us, we put "NMN" in the blank, for No Middle Name.

Another colossal headache is the checkout system. Not the whole thing, as it's a fairly smooth bit of software to use; just the special unnecessary precautionary measures it takes while doing so.

See, our patrons are allowed to check out up to 10 items on their card at a time. Well, when checking out 10 books for a patron today, I discovered that when you reach 8 books a little warning window pops up and says "This patron can only check out 2 more items on their card. Do you still want to continue? YES/NO" And when you reach 9 items, the window pops up to warn you that there's only room for one more item on the card and again asks if you truly wish to continue.

It's like the system is saying, "whoa! Hold on, Hoss! Let's not be hasty, there. That's 10 books you have on the counter. Are you sure you're gonna need that many? Cause, frankly, we'd be happier if you only took eight."

This warning window has the added drawback of not letting you use a keyboard command to tell it, "YES, I DO BLOODY WELL WANT MORE THAN 8 BOOKS." You have to use the mouse. So you have to stop everything you're doing, put down the barcode scanner, and click YES.

That's something that's going to have to be eliminated quick, because we have multiple families of patrons who come in on a weekly basis, return the 60 books they collectively checked out the week before and collectively check out 60 more. If I have to stop to argue with the computer every 8 and 9 books, either me or the computer is getting pushed into traffic.

Overall, I think Millennium will be a very good replacement for VTLS. Like I said, I'm not friends with it yet because there are still quite a few issues that will require some smoothing out. But it's a fairly customizable program, so any preferences we have should be able to be set... once we figure out exactly how to do it, that is.

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An employee of a small town "liberry" chronicles his quest to remain sane while dealing with patrons who could star in a short-lived David Lynch television series.